Here’s What It’s Like To Climb Sigiriya, Sri Lanka’s Ancient City In The Sky
Two things tend to come to mind when you’re visiting Sigiriya, Sri Lanka’s somewhat newly discovered ancient city in the sky. First, it’s usually something along the lines of, “This is the coolest experience ever.” Second, it’s also usually something along the lines of, “I hope these stairs hold, because if not, then I’m a goner.” Lucky for me, the stairs did stay firmly in place, and yes, the experience turned out to be the most amazing experiences I had while in Sri Lanka.
Sigiriya, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located in the Central Province, Sri Lanka, just outside the city of Habarana, and is the highlight for any trip to the country. For most visitors, it’s a one-day trip while visiting the so-called “Cultural Triangle,” which also includes the massive ruined city of Anuradhapura, capital of Sri Lanka from the third century BC to 993 AD, Polonnaruwa, the island’s second capital, and many other cultural sites.
Located in the central plains of Sri Lanka, Sigiriya itself is thought to have been home to people for thousands of years. The fortress at the top of the 660-foot-high rock is believed to have been built by King Kasyapa in 477 A.D. after seizing control from King Dathusena.
This is the famous view that greets you when you enter the park.
Down below are the remains of many reservoirs and building foundations used to support the inhabitants that called Sigiriya home throughout the years, including Buddhist monks.
After a short walk through the grounds, the climb begins with a steep staircase made of bricks leading up its western edge.
From the first landing halfway up, you can begin to get a great view of the surrounding landscape, including giant Buddha statues and stupas off into the distance.
You then follow along a metal walkway to visit the famous frescoes adorning the rock wall, as well as what they call Mirror Wall.
Mirror Wall is a smooth rock face with evidence of graffiti dating back hundreds of years.
As you emerge on the northern edge of the rock, you find yourself at the famous Lion Gate. It is believed there was a lion’s head also sculpted into the rock, but today you will only find a pair of giant paws — still quite impressive.
From here you can get a sense of what the rest of the climb will look like. This is a good time to check your shoes and make sure your laces are tied.
The next several hundred feet of climbing is on a set of metal stairs cemented into the rock wall. Needless to say, it’s not for the faint of heart.
Once you reach the top, you are instantly met with the massive scope of the complex that was built here.
Most of the structures were made of wood or other flammable objects that have since burned down or have blown away, but the masonry foundations of all of the building still remain, giving you a sense of the fortress’s scope.
Built on many levels, the complex featured houses, temples, a reservoir and even a swimming pool, perfect for relaxing in the late afternoon after a long day of running a kingdom.
You are allowed to explore the entire site by foot. At one corner looking out near the edge, I found a small cave that was used for meditation purposes.
From the lower angles you can get a sense of how massive the complex was.
The views overlooking the plains are spectacular.
I snapped this picture on the way back down to give a sense of the dramatic views you have when climbing up.
Despite what may seem like the difficulty involved in getting to the top, Sigiriya is actually a favorite spot for school trips.
When you go, be sure to wear a comfortable pair of shoes, drink lots of water along the way, and of course, take plenty of pictures to record your trip. Chances are you won’t experience anything like this anytime soon again.
Matt Stabile is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Expeditioner. The Expeditioner was founded in 2008 and is headquartered in New York City. You can read his writings, watch his travel videos or contact him at any time at TheExpeditioner.com.